Art in Weimar Germany: 1919 - 1933
Tate Modern 30 July 2018 - 14 July 2019
Although since the 1950s the term magic realism has become associated with Latin American literature, it was first coined by German photographer, art historian and art critic Franz Roh in 1925, to describe a return to realism, after the emotional, anxious, approach of expressionism. But it was a new realism, that observed and captured the magic, mysterious, side of human life and its inner worlds.
Confused? Fair enough, the Weimer Republic (1919-33) saw a mixture of strong paradoxes, a more liberal society, moral depravity, growing political extremism, unemployment, shell-shock, hyperinflation, being some of the facets. The long timeline printed on the wall in Room 1 helps the viewer get a picture of the immense creativity, innovation, suffering, instability of the times, from political events to the release of some of the most iconic and ground-breaking novels (e.g. All Quiet on the Western Front) and films (e.g. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), to the rise and fall of the Bauhaus.
The exhibition at Tate Modern is a year-long free display that explores the art of the Weimar Republic. Around seventy paintings and works on paper are on display, borrowed mostly from the rich holdings of The George Economou Collection, an extraordinary collection put together since the 1990s by the shipowner and art lover. This is a rare opportunity to see a range of artworks not often, if ever, seen on public display, together with key Tate works returned into their original context.
Works by Otto Dix, George Grosz and Max Beckmann are presented alongside those of under recognised artists such as Albert Birkle, Jeanne Mammen and Rudolf Schlichter, and of many others whose careers were curtailed by the rise of Nationalist Socialism at the end of the Weimar Republic.
The exhibition is arranged mainly thematically, opening in Room 1 with The Circus, a very apt theme that encompasses all the elements of wonder, tension, excitement, fear, reality and unreality.
Room 2, From the Visible to the Invisible, with some disturbing themes, such as lust murder, often depicted in Weimar culture. Otto Dix’s Butcher Shop and Billiard Players, two 1920 etchings, are symptomatic, respectively, of rage delirium and dejection following unemployment.
Room 3, On the Street and in the Studio, when Weimer Germany achieves more stability, the so-called Golden Twenties. The observation of reality can now be more leisurely, there seems to be less rush, in the restraint of the accurate still life, in the details and symbolism of cityscapes and portraits. Particularly interesting is Conversation about a Paragraph, a nude portrait by Franz Radzwill, on the subject of the abortion legislation.
Room 4: Cabaret. A fascinating depiction of political satire, more progressive moral values towards women, who could visit cabarets, and the thespian world with its surrounding extremes. Another version of reality/unreality as the Circus room.
Room 5: Faith. Definitely the most dramatic, with emaciated bodies, stark expressions, odd and searching approaches to a new religious iconography.
Some of the artworks exhibited are difficult to decipher or appreciate without being contextualised, and the information given by tags and boards is very informative and precious. Should you still be confused by the Weimar culture, the 3-part documentary Wealth and Frailty (available on YouTube, here), albeit totally unrelated to this particular exhibition, shows masterfully the interaction of art, cinema, political climate during those extraordinary years.
First published on the East Finchley Open Artists September 2018 Newsletter - Click HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.